HARTSVILLE, S.C. – A call was made on March 18. “Dispatch, 203. … As of 7 p.m. this evening … Captain, Station 2 (Darlington County Fire District), is signing off the air.”

Kim Cranford of Hartsville made the call, one last detail before retiring as a volunteer firefighter.

Forty-five years ago on his 15th birthday, Cranford joined the fire/rescue service with Lake Robinson Rescue Squad in Darlington County; he married his high school sweetheart just days after her high school graduation and has lived a life of service ever since.

“A community is only as good as what you put into it,” he said.

A requirement for joining the rescue squad was a driver’s license.

“I had just got my driver’s license,” Cranford said. “I couldn’t drive the equipment until I was 21.”

Why would someone so young want put his life on the line for others?

“I couldn’t really say,” Cranford said. “I really don’t know. It has always fascinated me. I have always wanted to help people. I know it does take a unique person to run into a (burning) building when others are running out.”

For a while he worked with emergency services and as a firefighter. He was a volunteer firefighter with the Hartsville Fire Department for more than 20 years before he joined the county services.

Cranford has answered many calls over the years, some ending in heartbreak while others had happier endings. He said in the beginning, calls were sent out through a “phone tree,” three calls for each person. Then as technology progressed, a radio system was used, as were various paging devices until cell phones became the method of receiving calls that would come any time day or night, he said.

Cranford said as a volunteer, he wasn’t able to go to all of the calls that came into the station.

“There have been times when a call was a block away, and I couldn’t get off the job to go,” Cranford said.

“In my younger years, I would go all over Darlington County,” he said.

If a call came out and he was nearby, he’d respond.

One year he responded to112 calls for help.

There have been some close calls, too.

“I’ve had some ceilings fall on me. I’ve had to go the hospital a couple of times for heat exhaustion,” he said. But he considered it all part of the job.

There was plenty of laughter, and there were many tears.

Cranford still remembers a call that happened 39 years ago when three people died in a house fire. He said he can still hear a man screaming as he was handed a child.

“He (the child) had on red shorts and blue shirt,” Cranford said. He was one of those who didn’t make it out alive.

There was much inspiration from many people over the years.

Cranford said he was inspired most by two men he worked with in the past: former Hartsville Fire Chief Charles E. “Charlie” Denney and Elliot Brock, who was on the rescue squad when Cranford joined at 15.

Cranford said Brock used to say not to get yourself killed getting there because then you couldn’t help anybody.

“Chief Denney was hardcore,” Cranford said. “He believed in doing everything correctly.”

Both are gone, but the lessons they taught are still remembered, he said.

Stories of calls from homeowners with cats stuck in the tree do exist, he said.

A man of great humor, Cranford recalled once when he picked up the phone at the fire station and no one was on the line. He pretended someone was there and said into the receiver that no one has ever seen a cat skeleton in a tree. He said his joke didn’t go over so well with the chief.

“But yes, we do answer all kinds of calls,” Cranford said.

The rewards have been many.

“I’ve had to sit in a car and cut people out,” he said of being at the scene of an accident.

He remembered one time in particular when he told a young boy that he was going to put a sheet over them both. He told the boy not to be afraid of the loud noise as they cut him out of the car.

“I’m going to hold your hand,” he said.

The reward came when the boy was cut out, put in the ambulance, and he turned and asked Cranford to ride with him.

He said he didn’t even know who he was, but a trust had been created in the moment.

“That is rewarding,” Cranford said.

The accolades for serving the people of Darlington County are not what motivates Cranford, although there have been many.

Among his awards are one for Hartsville Fire Department Firefighter of the Year in 2012 and another for Firefighter of the Year in 2010 for the Swift Creek Fire Department.

It’s his time to retire.

“It got to where I didn’t feel comfortable leaving Brenda at home at 3 in the morning,” Cranford said. “You have to weigh what is most important in your life. Family is my No. 1 priority.

“Brenda has put up with a lot, as does any spouse of emergency service personnel.”

He said there were missed birthdays and interrupted dinners, Thanksgivings and Christmases. Special occasions took a back seat when a call for help came out, he said.

On his birthday, March 18, Cranford said his final farewell to the life of a volunteer firefighter but not to service to others. He has started the Darlington County Emergence Service Honor Guard. He said they have already met twice, last week to learn the proper procedure for folding the American flag at a funeral.

The group will help with funerals for those who have served as firefighters and other emergency service personnel.

“That’s what I want to do,” he said. “It is a service that is needed.”

Cranford’s full-time job since 2012 has been as the building manager for the Center Theater in Hartsville. He also helps out at Brown-Pennington Askins Funeral Home. Previously he worked at SCE&G.

A native of Darlington County, Cranford graduated from Hartsville High School and attended Florence-Darlington Technical College.

“Brenda and I started dating when she was in the ninth grade,” he said.

Cranford is a member of the Lions Club in Hartsville and is a past King Lion. He was recognized as Lion of the Year in 2015-2016,

He is a past Master of Masonic Lodge 173.

In 2016, he received the Citizen of the Year award presented annually by the Hartsville Rotary Club at the Greater Hartsville Chamber of Commerce banquet.